Manitoba has always been recognized as a bucket list fishing destination. Within the province there is a vast range of incredible drive-to angling opportunities. Throughout the months of July, August and September Lake Manitoba’s north basin provides anglers with a truly unique experience; the opportunity to sight fish Master Angler sized freshwater drum. Unlike the south basin of Lake Manitoba that has a sand, silt and shale bottom, the north basin is incredibly different. With shorelines edged in sandstone and bedrock and widespread concentrations of compounding boulders beneath the surface, the structure and water clarity of the north basin is incomparable to the south. Not only is the structure incomparable, but so are the opportunities to catch some of the largest freshwater drum in the province.
Sight Fishing Lake Manitoba’s North Basin
The abrupt change in the Lakes’ underwater landscape begins at the Lake Manitoba Narrows. This well-known narrow passage links Lake Manitoba’s north and south basins together. It is in the structure rich, north basin where I began searching for these exceptionally large freshwater drum. In my experiences chasing these powerhouse fish, I have found sight fishing to be the most effective and exciting way to target them. The first step to sight fishing freshwater drum begins with scanning the lake bottom in search of rocky structures and reefs below. Even though the reefs may lie below the current water levels, when conditions are optimum it is visually possible to see the entire outline of the underwater structure from above. Once I have located the reef, I will maneuver around the huge boulders using a trolling motor to familiarize myself with the shape of the reef beneath me. My best sight fishing experiences have come on the leeward sides of these reefs within 10 feet of any current or wind breaks. On a sunny day using a good set of polarized sunglasses, these highly aggressive freshwater drum can be easily spotted as they ambush huge schools of shiners that pass through the vehicle sized boulders below.
Up Close and Personal with Giant Drum
Another strategy that is both successful and a personal favourite of mine when fishing larger main lake structures, involves sight casting while wading in the water. This technique can be tricky but accomplished by taking the time to locate a suitable shallow area to anchor and safely exit the boat. If you plan on trying this technique bring along a good pair of wading shoes and walk with caution. Rocks that remain submerged beneath the surface may be extremely slippery, jagged and abrasive. Once in the water keep your body movement to a minimal and remain on the lookout for any movement below the surface. Patrolling through the shallows slowly, with my fishing rod in a vertical (half cast) position at all times, has allowed me to tighten the gap on the unsuspecting fish.
Once a fish is spotted, the excitement begins. Start by pitching the lure of choice in the direction of any visible fish. Be sure to pitch the lure so that it contacts the water on the far side of the fish. This allows the bait to spend more time in the strike zone before fish become weary of your presence at the end of your retrieve. I’ve administered a variety of different bait presentations on Lake Manitoba. From a slow and steady retrieve where I am almost dragging it back on bottom, to a quick snappy retrieve when the lure never made any bottom contact at all. Altering this back and forth throughout the day as the fish’s appetite and attitudes seemingly change. I displayed my most aggressive presentation between 10am and 1pm. This has consistently anchored me my largest fish throughout the day of sight casting. Tipping the lure incited a positive reaction when the fish were less aggressive. When offering night crawlers or salted minnows, the salty’s definitely stole the show! The lures that caught the heaviest fish and provided the most excitement was definitely the midget MooseLook Wobbler in a smooth gold or silver, as well as the Mister Twister brand 3” white grub threaded onto a 1/4 Oz black jig head.
Navigating Lake Manitoba
If you choose to explore Lake Manitoba’s north basin a dependable GPS and sonar unit are highly recommended. The north basin is a large expanse of open water that begins a few miles north of the Narrows. Prior to heading out for a day on the water, its never a bad idea to check the local weather forecast to avoid any unexpected poor conditions that may arise. Cell phone service on the main lake does exist but can be spotty at times and should not be depended upon. Let somebody know which areas you plan to visit and when you plan on returning. If you have never had the opportunity to tour this big fish factory by boat, a reduced speed is the best approach. It’s not uncommon to find shallow reefs scattered throughout the vicinity of this large basin, many of which are surrounded by miles of deeper water. I have personally encountered large reefs only a few inches below the waters surface that where not on my mapping system.
Topographical lake maps combined with a sonar system that offers a live charting option will allow you to locate and determine the shape and size of most underwater structures safely and efficiently. If that is not an option, finding these reefs can also be done by scanning the waters surface with a good pair of binoculars. When using this technique be on the look out for any abnormal colors or surface water movement that differs from what the majority of lake is displaying. These underwater Islands of rock can often be havens for massive freshwater drum. Locating the right rock house can often result in non-stop action throughout the entire day, with numbers of large fish landed entering the triple digits.
The Narrows Sunset Lodge
Located right at the Lake Manitoba Narrows, on east side of the bridge, you will find the Narrows Sunset Lodge. The Lodge is conveniently planted within arms reach of some of the lakes most prolific fishing grounds and has been outfitting the needs of anglers for decades. If you choose to stay here, upon arrival you’ll be greeted with friendly hometown service and will experience comfortable lodging, excellent meals, a terrific bait & tackle shop, along with a fantastic boat launch suitable for any size watercraft. Across the road, just a stone’s throw from the waters edge, the lodge has handful of reservable camp sites, offered at a reasonable rate to those that prefer a more traditional camping experience.
For more information about drive-to fishing in Manitoba, visit our Drive-To Fishing page.
For more information about The Narrows Sunset Lodge, visit The Narrows Sunset Lodge’s website.
*Protect Manitoba’s water and resources. Stop aquatic invasive species. For more information on how to do your part visit the Sustainable Development AIS page.
HuntFishMB Contributor: Chris Chorney